This Toronto start-up uses quantum computing to speed up protein-modeling, accelerating drug design and new cures for diseases.

Most known diseases can be attributed to the structure of proteins in certain cells – a biological fact driving the research and development of protein-based therapies that can alter the behaviour of affected proteins to cure disease. A big challenge for scientists, however, is the length of time it takes to design, produce and test each protein structure in the laboratory.

"It can take months to prototype a protein structure and then test it to see if it works or if it's faulty," explains Tomáš Babej, founder and chief technology officer at ProteinQure, which joined Creative Destruction Lab's seed stage program in September 2017. "And when a structure is found faulty, you need to start all over again with a new protein design."

ProteinQure's quantum-powered solutions could soon change all this. The Toronto start-up is developing algorithms that will make it possible to digitally model protein folding. When applied with a quantum computer, these algorithms will enable rapid prototyping of protein design.

"With a quantum computer, you can rapid prototype to find fault quickly within days rather than months," says Babej. "A computational method for folding would be a way of searching different possibilities – it gives you the ability to quickly iterate on the design of a drug. Instead of taking a year to find out the structure of a drug, you can do that in a couple of days and have thousands of iterations and a better shape in the end."

ProteinQure is in good company in Ontario, says Christopher Ing, a computational biophysicist at ProteinQure. He points to Toronto, Ontario-based companies such as Deep Genomics Inc., and Atomwise, which are succeeding in the still-emerging field of computational drug design.

"There have been several companies in Toronto that have had success in this area, and we've tried to model our company after them," says Ing. "For us, it's exciting to know that we're doing work that can lead to a cure for all these diseases that are making it difficult for people to live normal lives."

Christopher Ing displays a protein model.

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June 4, 2018

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